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A Head-to-Toe Guide to Ergonomics

Thursday, February 18, 2010
By Anne Kramer

Ergonomic principles are an indispensable tool for businesses. They both protect employees from injury and improve productivity. Ultimately, ergonomics reduces costs and improves revenue. A comprehensive, whole-body approach maximizes these benefits. With the right tools, it is simple to integrate ergonomics head-to-toe.

Protecting the Head and Neck

Perhaps the most critical step for preventing conditions from headaches to neck strain, is using proper posture. The position of office equipment significantly impacts the positions of the head and neck, because it affects the amount of twisting and lowering the head.

  • Placing a riser under the computer monitor promotes keeping the head in a neutral position, neither lowered or raised.
  • A document holder place in-line or next to the monitor minimizes turning the head from side to side.
  • An anti-glare filter protects the eyes from unnecessary strain by minimizing the effects of overhead or background lighting.

Defending the Back and Shoulders

Both the upper and lower back bear the brunt of virtually every movement and posture. While the large muscle groups of the back are relatively elastic, the spine and smaller muscles in the shoulders are more delicate and prone to injury.

  • Lumbar support relieves the stress on the lower back. Ergonomic chairs provide the proper support, as do detachable lumbar cushions.
  • To reduce reaching, frequently used items should be moved within 16 inches of the work area. A swiveling chair also decreases twisting the lower back.
  • Lifting heavy loads causes the majority of serious back injuries. Employees should break up heavy loads whenever possible and use rolling carts for transport.

Shielding the Wrists and Hands

As workers spend increasingly more time on computer-based tasks, their risk for carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries (RSI) rises. Multiple tools are available to help employees maintain proper typing posture.

  • Replacing a traditional mouse with a footswitch or trackball substantially reduces wrist and hand use. This measure helps eliminate carpal tunnel and trigger finger.
  • A wrist rest (sometimes referred to as a “palm rest”) placed in front of the keyboard supports the wrists and helps maintain neutral posture while keyboarding.
  • Employees who get in the habit of alternating tasks and taking regular breaks from computer-based activities can prevent repetitive stress injuries.

Protecting the Feet and Legs

Because many employees spend the majority of the workday seated, they tend to neglect their legs and feet. But circulation and muscle protection are just as important for the lower body.

  • If a chair is too high, it can cut off circulation to the lower legs. Adjustable chairs and work surfaces ensure that each employee can sit and work at the correct height for the whole body.
  • For higher workstations, footrests give employees extra lift so that feet do not dangle. Generally a three- to six-inch lift is enough.
  • Employees who spend time standing will benefit from anti-fatigue mats, which reduce the strain on the legs and feet.

Ultimately employers who use ergonomics to guide the layout and arrangement of the workplace will enjoy definitive savings and improved earnings. Holistic protection for employees makes for a safer, more productive workplace.

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